- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

Tomas Fleischmann had a great first period — his best with the Washington Capitals.

Then Alexander Semin went out in the second period and had a better one.

Semin had a natural hat trick — three consecutive goals (on three straight shots) — in a span of 7:04 and the Caps blasted an Eastern Conference team in playoff contention for the second straight game, routing the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-1 at Verizon Center.

Semin’s goals were quite the showcase of his world-class skills. His first was a blistering slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle on a power play. A little more than five minutes later he and Fleischmann broke in on a 2-on-1, and the 23-year old Russian deked to his backhand and then slid the puck between Lightning goaltender Marc Denis’ legs as he sprawled to his right to stop a potential pass.

Ninety-three seconds later Semin completed the hat trick with a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. He was standing still when he fired the puck through a crowd and over Denis’ glove for his 37th marker of the season, eliciting a reaction of utter disbelief from Denis.

“It is not like I was shooting real hard tonight,” Semin said through a translator. “The third goal I just put it on, and I don’t know how it went in. I guess the goalie just didn’t see the shot.”

Semin’s sublime seven minutes did not completely overshadow Fleischmann’s best day in an NHL uniform.

The 22-year old from the Czech Republic has bounced back and forth between Hershey in the American Hockey League and the Caps this season, but his two goals yesterday made a convincing argument for him to stay.

Fleischmann opened the scoring with his third goal of the season 5:31 into the first period. Boyd Gordon worked the puck free from Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle along the boards, and it squirted to Fleischmann, who broke in alone on starting goaltender Johan Holmqvist and slipped a wrist shot under his glove.

A little more than eight minutes later he collected the puck near his blue line and skated down the middle of the ice 1-on-2 against Tampa Bay defensemen Filip Kuba and Doug Janik. Fleischmann uncorked a quick slap shot from about 10 feet inside the blue line to the same spot — under Holmqvist’s glove and over his left leg.

“It seems to me that everything was going my way tonight, and I am happy I took advantage,” said Fleischmann, who signed a three-year entry-level deal in June 2004 and will be a restricted free agent this summer. “It is my last year under contract, and I am trying to prove that I can play at this level. It is all of what I am doing right now these last 15 games.”

The goals meant Fleischmann had his first multipoint game in the NHL, but he wasn’t done. His pass to Semin started the aforementioned 2-on-1, and his perfect backhand pass to Gordon in the slot for a goal late in the third period to close the scoring gave him two assists to go with the pair of goals.

“It is great, and that’s what we are waiting for,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “That’s how we want him to play. We want him to shoot the puck, and we want him to make plays. He’s done it in the American Hockey League, and he’s got to make the transition.”

This win came two days after the Caps bested Toronto 5-1 to snap a nine-game losing streak. The Lightning are in sixth place in the East with 82 points, and the Maple Leafs are tied for ninth with 78.

After Fleischmann scored his two goals and then put another shot on Holmqvist that he didn’t handle cleanly, Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella pulled the goaltender in favor of Denis at the next stoppage of the play with 3:21 left in the first period. Denis faced two shots at the end of the period but could not stop any of Semin’s three at the start of the second, and Tortorella yanked him to put Holmqvist back in.

“[The Caps] are team that is playing very loose. They have nothing to lose,” Tampa Bay captain Tim Taylor said. “They are out of the playoffs. They have no chance. Every year they are like this. They are out of the playoffs, and they seem to beat us at big times.”

Alexandre Giroux scored his second NHL goal and second in as many games. Gordon also has scored in two straight games. Caps goalie Olie Kolzig stopped 30 of 31 shots for his second strong start in a row. And the Caps’ checking unit of Gordon, Brooks Laich and Chris Clark shut down one of the best trios in hockey —Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards combined for zero points.

But the day belonged to Semin and Fleischmann.

“Don’t blame me [for stealing part of the spotlight] — I could have gotten him a hat trick when we came out 2-on-1,” Semin said with a sheepish grin. “I wanted to give to him the pass, but the defenseman sprawled, and there was no passing lane.”

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